Cyber Security News & Updates

Court rules that ISPs do not need to give up information on alleged pirates, copyright infringers

An American Internet Service Provider (ISP) has received validation that it does not have to give up personal details of alleged copyright infringers. The Eastern Virginia District Court has denied copyright holder BMG Rights Management a permanent injunction against Cox Communication that would force the ISP to match personally identifiable information such as email address, physical address, and name to an IP address that has been accused of copyright infringement. In this case, BMG was trying to force Cox Communication to actively spy on allegedly pirating users and “verify” that they had stopped pirating.

The recently decided motion for judgement as a matter of law was between music licenser BMG Rights Management, a client of Rightscorp, and Cox Communication, a widely used American ISP. Judge O’Grady reaffirmed the December decision that Cox is liable for contributory copyright infringement and needs to pay $25 million in damages to BMG. However, Judge O’Grady also denied a permanent injunction sought by BMG, ruling that Cox did not have to provide emails, addresses, and other private information of alleged copyright infringers to BMG. However, the new law opens a pandora’s box of litigation and will likely prompt ISPs to take a long, hard internal look at how they handle the question of online infringement. Gone are the days of ISPs throwing away copyright infringement letters for you. Judge O’Grady wrote:

“In reaching this conclusion, the Court acknowledges that the application of traditional contributory infringement to large intermediaries like Cox magnifies the uncertainties in this area of the law and raises the specter of undesirable consequences that may follow.”

Anti-Pirating firm Rightscorp threatens other ISPs

Rightscorp uses proprietary software to identify the IPs of copyright infringers through Torrent protocols. They then take this information and use it to send threatening letters to you through your ISP, on behalf of copyright holders such as BMG. The recent court case essentially affirms that ISPs must pass these letters on to you, as well as setup clear rules for banning repeat offenders. However, your ISP does not need to give your information up. For years, letters were ignored by their recipients because Rightscorp had no established legal right to collect judgement; in fact, Rightscorp’s revenue comes from the small percentage of copyright infringers that make the mistake of responding or engaging. As RightsCorp is unable to identify anything beyond the IP address, they would need ISPs to disclose identifying information about the alleged copyright infringer. Rightscorp could and likely would then send emails, mail, and probably phone calls to the registered contact information of alleged IP addresses. All this despite the fact that court documents showed multiple sources of inaccuracy in Rightscorp’s detection software and presented data.

This new court ruling specifically knocks down Rightscorp’s ability to directly target alleged copyright infringers, but it means that Rightscorp’s trove of data is that much more useful to its clients that can then refocus legal attacks on companies like Cox.

Rightscorp CEO explained:

“…our company has also amassed a vast amount of data documenting infringements that have occurred over the past five years on the network of essentially every ISP in the country. That data will be made available to copyright holders that wish to enforce their rights against ISPs that are not inclined toward a cooperative solution.”

While this is just a threat, and it comes from a financially struggling Rightscorp, the real threat comes from Rightscorp’s clients, such as BMG, who will continue to sue ISPs directly in a way that Rightscorp would be unable.

Don’t just rely on your ISP to protect you: Encrypt

If all of the entire Internet is dangerous because of the three letter agencies that are wire tapped into inter-continental data lines, the most dangerous spot (when it comes to surveillance) is still undoubtedly your ISP. Unless you encrypt your traffic, you really should expect that someone somewhere is able to read it. Joseph Lorenzo, technologist at Center for Technology and Democracy, told VICE his expert opinion:

“if people are concerned about the confidentiality and integrity of their communications, they will have to treat the internet at large as a hostile network over which one must tunnel securely.”

Rightscorp’s CEO made it a point to threaten every ISP in the country, saying that his company has now been legally vindicated and that he hopes for a new future where every ISP cooperates with passing copyright infringement letters on to paying customers, or maybe even some new hybrid system borne of increased cooperation between ISPs and licensing companies. Though the courts have stopped the floodgate of copyright infringement cases, for now, Either way, you should probably thank your lucky stars for VPN.

About the author

Caleb Chen


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